Michael Harris understands better than most the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. He was on the way out of his annual wellness exam when he mentioned to his doctor that he thought now that he was 50, he thought he’d better schedule a colonoscopy. She told him that for African American men, she recommends starting as early as 40, so he scheduled an appointment for the following week. Less than a month later, he was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of colon cancer.
“She told me that if I’d waited as little as 10 more months, I would not be sitting here having this conversation,” Michael said.
After undergoing treatment, Michael, now a cancer survivor, was able to ride an impressive 489 miles during Great Cycle Challenge 2020, an annual event where riders from across the country pledge to ride miles and raise funds to support childhood cancer research. He also finished the challenge as the No. 2 fundraiser, raising over $33,000 for childhood cancer research. Great Cycle Challenge raised a total of $14,830,926 in 2020, breaking all previous records for the event.
We asked this standout Houston rider about his cancer battle, his success during Great Cycle Challenge and who inspires him to keep pedaling.
What inspired you to join Great Cycle Challenge?
Certainly my own journey with cancer, but I was also inspired to ride in honor of 3-year-old Cash, who is fighting leukemia. Cash is an extended family member, I’ve known his family for years. I knew about Cash’s story, and his mom was one of my first supporters. When I first posted on social media that I was riding, she shared Cash’s story with me, so I called her and said I wanted to commit my ride to Cash. Cash’s favorite super hero is Black Panther, which I thought really completed the triangle because of Chadwick Boseman and his battle with cancer and his contributions to society. This cause really tugs at my heartstrings, especially as a cancer survivor myself.
Do you think having your own cancer experience gives you some insight into what kids fighting cancer go through?
My experience and my journey with cancer was as an adult, so I had an opportunity to grow and live a fulfilling childhood, engage in activities not restricted by health concerns. Then when I was challenged with cancer as an adult, it was very taxing, but I cannot imagine having to be faced with those challenges as a kid, especially as someone like Cash, who has to live with those restrictions so early in their lives.
Were you surprised by the amount of support you found while riding for Great Cycle Challenge?
Yes! I wanted to do my part for these kids, and if there were others within my social network who wanted to make a contribution, I wanted to give them an opportunity for them to do their part as well. But what started off as a way to just do my part mushroomed into a support group of over 150 sponsors who ultimately raised a little over $32,000 for childhood cancer research.
Was there anything that surprised you about being part of Great Cycle Challenge?
I didn’t know to start fundraising early! This was my inaugural ride, so I started in September. If I’d known to start early, I would have started my page in March and spent that time soliciting sponsors and reaching out to other riders in Houston where I live to plan group rides. But I was most surprised by the connections I made. On one of my rides, I saw five people with their GCC jerseys on, and I was able to exchange contact info with them. I hope everyone who rode this year becomes an enthusiast and continues to ride and make connections and develop an even broader social network with one another.
What do you think your own cancer experience has taught you? What lessons do you want to give to others?
My takeaway from my own experience is that early detection is key. I would encourage even people who believe they are the healthiest of the healthy to have annual wellness exams, because if you can get an early diagnosis, your chances of beating it are so much greater. My doctor told me that if my diagnosis had been 10 months later, I might not be here having this conversation today.
What would you say to kids who are fighting cancer today, like Cash, who might need a little boost?
I want to encourage kids to not allow their current diagnosis to determine what their future could be. They have the ability and the fortitude within them to overcome any obstacle, including a fight against cancer. They are never, ever alone, because there are so many individuals praying for their recovery, and supporting them on one way or another. They never have to feel that they are in this alone.